May 09

Na Yipping and Winning

Has Kevin Na Overcome Full Swing Yips?

For leading after two rounds, and solidly in contention after three, Kevin Na is certainly a surprise visitor to the top of the leaderboard. Golf being an impact game where the inner body is concerned, he’s been nothing short of a train wreck since turning pro at the age of seventeen. Signs of the dreaded “yips” appeared a few years ago in Na’s game, but instead of doing the usual, fading into obscurity at best, and total oblivion at worst, the Korean American golfer who lives in Las Vegas kept shooting sub-par rounds, yips and all.

na Born in Seoul, in 1983, Kevin Na got his game going early, and won the Volvo Masters of Asia, which vaulted him into the PGA by 2004. Since that time, he has one PGA win, and four other victories on other tours. Along the way, the Kevin Na Express has been derailed, re-railed, and literally hit or miss ever since, all the while putting in a serious number of rounds in the 60s, and a few near-wins in high-profile tournaments.

Two years after his PGA debut, he suffered a hand injury, and spent the following year on a medical extension, still doing all right, for the most part. In that year, however, sudden signs of dysfunction flashed on and off, such as the worst performance on a par-four hole since the inception of the tour itself – Na scored a 16, and was lucky to get away with that. On another occasion, he “whiffed” a drive. I haven’t done that for half a century, with one or two ‘almosts’ along the way, mostly due to bleary-eyed, early morning tee times. In Na’s case, however, he went on to shoot a 66 for the same round. My round, let us say, did not resemble Na’s in any way.
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In 2013, Na again found himself on medical exemption, but pulled out of it. But now, I read about his swing condition, colorfully termed “the full swing yips.” I thought the yips were all about putting, and maybe up to a wedge or 9-iron – apparently not. Once Na reaches the top, he seems to have no trouble hitting the ball, but he has been, at times, almost paralyzed in the set-up, simply taking up a stance in front of the ball. After that, he seems to suffer an almost OCD-level problem on the waggles. He has, of late, found specific rhythms and pairs of maneuvers that can get him through that phase of the swing. Finally, he has serious problems with the takeaway. At times, he can’t do it. Getting the club from the ball back over his shoulder might as well be the same as lifting a two-ton weight. It doesn’t help that fans have taking to yelling at or to him, whether in a friendly spirit or not, “Pull the trigger, pull the trigger!”
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In the 2012 Players Championship, this problem hit its high point, and a friend prohibited him from watching the Golf Channel that evening, in which Na and his problems were the topics. David Duval has commented that he looks as though he’s “thinking about every position through the entire golf swing.” Na, in response, explains that he is trying to see every shot from the target in.

Whatever is going on with Kevin Na and the yips, he is neither in obscurity nor oblivion. In fact, he led the 2015 Players Championship through two rounds, and is only two back at the end of the third, at 8 under. Yippy or not, Na is spending a lot of time in the 60s, which bodes well for paychecks on Sunday, and few missed cuts. Still, he fears that at some point, he will stand over the ball, and find himself unable to move. He’s already on the clock, but so far, he looks like the kind of guy who could win this tomorrow, full-swing yips or not.

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